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Kathy's Favorite Things - 10 VIRTUAL Classroom Essentials


Happy Summer everyone!  I truly hope that you were able to escape the craziness just a little bit this summer.  After a very stressful spring, a summer that has gone by in the blink of an eye, and a fall full of unknowns looming...I thought a fun blog post might be in order.  
Let's face the facts:  Remote learning is likely to be part of our future in the coming months (and, dare I say, years).  There are so many things to consider as we settle into this new reality, and it can be super overwhelming.  I am hoping that today's post takes some of that stress away and helps you to start thinking about setting up your virtual learning environment, as well as some of the essential tools that you may want/need to make things go smoothly.

So, if this post stresses you out more....save it for another time!  Otherwise, keep reading for a list of my favorite VIRTUAL Classroom Essentials.

1.  HEADSET

If you are working from home, a headset can be a very useful tool.  It can help in several ways including:  blocking out background noise, better audio quality to be able to hear your students more clearly, and sparing your entire household from hearing your classroom banter.  As you are selecting your headset, consider whether you want one earphone or two.  I found that two is great for hearing students, but makes it difficult to hear yourself and what's going on around you in real-time (which bothers me).  I use a headset with one ear piece so that I don't feel blocked out from the rest of the world and can hear myself talking.  I like the MPow brand (I have both of these headsets).


2.  VIRTUAL BACKGROUND


Either a virtual background or a vinyl background that you can hang is great for teaching.  It helps students to focus on you rather than on what is going on behind you.  You can actually find awesome virtual backgrounds on Teachers Pay Teachers, and many that are free on Google.  If you use Zoom, you can upload these right into the platform (and I believe Google is working on adding this feature soon as well).  If you have Manycam (will discuss this further below), you can use a virtual background no matter which conferencing platform you use.

I have also used a vinyl background that you just hang up behind you.  I designed it myself (you can purchase designs on TPT), and sent it to "Banners on the Cheap" to print on a vinyl banner.  It cost about $25 and turned out great!  I was able to hang it from the ceiling in my office so it looks like my real background (you could also hang on the wall).

3.  IPHONE/TABLET STAND


I have a stand for my tablet and for my phone.  I use both of these when I teach remotely and needed an organized way to keep them nearby.  The one I use for my tablet is adjustable, making it possible for me to use my tablet as a document camera...which is awesome!!




4.  STICKY NOTES


This needs no explanation!!  I use them to remind me of everything!

5.  DRY ERASE BOARD AND MARKER


This simple tool can come in really handy when teaching student remotely.  Sure, you can use a virtual whiteboard, but a real one works just as well and you don't have to "share screen" to use it which puts YOU as the focus of students' attention, which is what they really want.

6.  RING LIGHT


Good lighting is super important in a virtual learning environment.  Students want and need to be able to see you really well.  Especially with the dark day of winter approaching, do yourself a favor and invest in some cheap studio lighting.  



7.  FILE FOLDERS


This is also self-explanatory.  I love cute file folders because I have them out everywhere, so they might as well be part of the decor!   I keep a file folders for small group instruction, current/hot projects, and student contact information...anything you need in a snap and don't want to go digging around your Google drive to find.



8.  MANYCAM


Manycam basically acts as a "virtual" webcam.  It uses your actual webcam, but then you set Zoom or Google Meet to use MANYCAM as your camera.  It's a little confusing if you've never used it...but look into it (loads of Youtube videos are available).  It enables you to do cool things like use a virtual background without a green screen, share your screen without having to actually share your screen, use picture in picture during live meetings (so students can still see you while you are sharing texts and other things), insert images and special effects into your screen (picture a parrot gif sitting on your shoulder as you teach), and you can even put virtual masks and other accessories on yourself (kooky glasses, a pink wig, or a cat mask are my favorites).  Manycam is free to use if you don't mind having a watermark on the screen with you.

9.  STANDING DESK


I have not invested in one yet, but I am seriously considering it.  This teacher/coach is not used to sitting down this much!


10.  DIGITAL TEXT/E-READERS

If you have a document camera, yes, you can put your picture books and other texts under there to read aloud to kiddos.  However, there are so many perks to using digital texts!  My favorite resources for digital texts include Newsela (free), Readworks (free), Literacy Footprints Digital Reader (pricey), Raz-Kids (pricey), and Oxford Owl (free), Get Epic (free for teachers, but students need a subscription to access from home).  I use ALL of these for different things (future blog post alert).  

So, there you have it...some of my favorite tools for remote teaching.  I know our budgets are very tight, especially now, so hopefully you won't be spending a ton of your own money on these things.  If we really value education in our country, we need to be properly funded and teachers need to stop spending their own money on EVERYTHING!  But if you are on you own to get the things you need, I've seen teachers have huge success in raising funds through Donor's Choose, Facebook Fundraisers, and GoFundMe. 

I hope you enjoyed this post and it gave you a moment of happiness, thinking about setting up your virtual classroom.   I have posted some digital resources that I created in a pinch last spring...they are perfect for uploading into Google Clasroom or any other learning management system.

Be well, stay safe and know that you are heroes!!  Reach out in the comments with your favorite essentials!

Digital Graphic Organizers for Google Classroom (Distance Learning)
Digital Reading Response for Google Classroom -  Distance Learning Bundle

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